Monday, July 10, 2017

Composing Greatness: #10. John Williams - "Jaws" (1975)

Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Jaws (1975)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
Did He Win: Yes

Other Nominees:
-Birds Do It, Bees Do It (Gerald Fried)
-Bite the Bullet (Alex North)
-One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Jack Nitzsche)
-The Wind and the Lion (Jerry Goldsmith)

Additional Information

This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 11
Oscar Wins: 2

Acceptance Speech

Track List

1. "Main Title (Theme From 'Jaws')"
2. "The Empty Raft"
3. "The Pier Incident"
4. "The Shark Cage Fugue"
5. "The Indianapolis Story"
6. "Sea Attack Number One"
7. "Montage"
8. "Father and Son"
9. "Into the Estuary"
10. "Out to Sea"
11. "Hand to Hand Combat"
12. "Quint's Tale"
13. "Brody Panics"
14. "Barrel of Starboard"
15. "The Great Shark Chase"
16. "Three Barrels Under"
17. "Between Attacks"
18. "The Shark Approaches"
19. "Blown to Bits"

*NOTE: Listen to Score here

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"Main Titles"

With two notes, John Williams ascended to the heavens of immortal composers. For it was with Jaws that he finally found a balance between bombastic production and beautiful melodies. Everyone can sing this theme, or at least the part that matters. What doesn't get talked about enough is how it builds, creating a sense of urgency. The low hum of those notes are great at subliminally creating fear in the listener. As the rest of the orchestra picks up, it feels like an attack on the senses. The shark is about to bite you. Suddenly, it overwhelms you and you are left in the middle of one of the greatest, most iconic scores in film history. The irony is that Williams has probably topped himself dozens of times after this point. Still, this is where he went from just a composer, to THE composer. History wouldn't be the same after these two notes, and that is an actual FACT.

Interesting Standout:

Everyone remembers the scary parts of the score. They remember how it builds and attacks the senses with wonderful precision. This is why it is interesting to note that a small fraction of the score is actually upbeat and downright playful in a way that you'd think more of John Williams' work on E.T. than one of the scariest movies of all time. In this particular instance, there's a jaunty fun to the music that is at times Victorian and playful. It's cute and catchy in disarming ways. Even then, it is a nice counterargument to the more intense tracks on this score, and it is important in helping to create one of the richest sonic experiments in soundtrack history. It may not be as memorable, but it's the reason that everything else works so well.

Best Moment:
 "Into the Estuary"

This may be the hardest part of the column to write, in large part because there's at least seven tracks that were up for consideration. While they all were plays on the same motif, they all were a fascinatingly unique take on how to build music and tension. I went with this track in large part because it doesn't sound like it should work. There's strings, wind instruments, and everything meshing together into one chaotic picture. It manages to ebb and flow with a changing tide, reflecting a discomfort and temporary peace that a story like Jaws should have. This is an incredible work that makes Williams sound like the heir apparent to Max Steiner's romanticism and Bernard Herrmann's horror simultaneously.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

It would almost feel like an understatement to write "Duh!" as the correct answer. What's more incredible is that this isn't John Williams' first or second Oscar nomination. It is his 11th. Very few artists could dream of getting half that amount, yet Williams was only getting started by this point. While there's plenty to love about what's come before, this is where things felt realized. Maybe it helps that the Steven Spielberg partnership has become so iconic. Even then, it's just the implicit genius in how the score builds, even the instruments chosen to create the mood. This is everything that the previous 10 nominations have been building towards, and it's exciting to see what lies ahead, especially with the next few being arguably his greatest period.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Win?

What more can be said about Jaws at this point? It's a score that offers an embarrassment of riches. It has the most iconic film score in the shortest amount of notes. It has a wonderful blend of melodies and tension. There's so much here that is brilliant. What's not to love? It's John Williams realizing what makes him work as an artist, and I think that alone should give this win some extra levity. The fact that the 2013 Oscars ceremony used the Jaws theme as play-off music should suggest just how much this score has stuck around. 

Up Next: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) for Best Music, Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" (1975)
2. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
3. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
4. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
5. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
6. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
7. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
8. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
9. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
10. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
2. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score

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